I sprained my finger the other day. I was mountain biking, enjoying the air, the forest, the thrill of a new adventure - a challenge to conquer. I almost made it to the end when I lost control. I fell off the bike. I'm not sure what my finger intended to do to help, but it didn't do it right.
The pain was unbearable at first, "It's broken," I thought as I pulled myself up, back to my feet. I looked to my finger, bending it as a test. "It's not broken", I realize, but I still can't use it. I got back on the bike that threw me and finished the ride. I can't use my finger for the rest of the day, but fortunately, it's not necessary. I have four others, right next to it, offering their support. While my finger takes the time it needs to heal, my other fingers continue to work.
Later that night, I started to see a bruise. "It's definitely a sprain," I say, as though it wasn't true until there was a visual sign that something was wrong. The pain, the lack of proper function wasn't enough. I had to see that there was something wrong in order to believe it. And as the bruise grows, so does the believability of the injury. "Wow, it really is messed up," they'll say, as if they only believe me when there is something for them to see. Ignoring my complaints and discomfort as if it's not real.
And the bruise brings me comfort, because as long as it's there, people will believe me. They'll believe me when something hurts, because they can see the bruise. They'll believe when my finger won't function, because they can see the bruise. Fortunately, it bruised, or I might look crazy - attention seeking. Because unless they can see it, it isn't real.
I have a bruise on my leg, too, from the same accident. It doesn't bother me much. In fact, I'll often forget that it's there. The muscle below it is bruised as well, but only lets me know it's not okay when I go for long walks.
When people see it, they insist that it looks painful - that I must have hit it pretty hard for it to bruise the way it did. They insist that I take care of it, despite my knowledge that it doesn't hurt and that with time, it'll look after itself. Before I know it, it'll be gone - as though it never existed, yet in its short life, it'll get more attention than it deserves because it's there - because it can be seen by others.
I have one more issue. This one is a little more chronic and, unfortunately, didn't only happen during my biking accident. I've lived with this one for my entire life. It isn't visible, which is perhaps why it wasn't noticed by anyone until just recently. Just like my sprained finger, this is an issue that limits function. Unlike my bruised leg, this isn't an issue that will disappear as though it never existed. And sadly, though it has the two most hurtful features of my visible scars, it's the one that gets the least attention from others.
I'll tell them about this issue, not seeking attention, but seeking comfort. I'll share with them the pain I'm feeling, and the worries they bring up because it hurts to keep it all inside. I'll share my concerns about an event coming up. "Yeah, but you'll have a lot of fun," they'll tell me in response. I'll share with them my concerns about a governing body that is supposed to be working for me, but is instead making my life harder. "Yeah, but everyone's going through a hard time," they say to me. I'll tell them about the changes happening in my life, and how upsetting and difficult they are for me to cope with. "Yeah, but change can be a good thing too." they'll assure me, unaware how their dismissive-supportive comments make me feel lesser. I'll share my concerns, my fears, my struggles with my life, my work, and be met with more of the "yeah, but…" line that makes me feel like they don't listen, as if they don't care. As if my life, my fears, my worries, aren't as valid as their own because they don't see the pain. There is no bruise, or scar, that they can use to judge my pain and therefore, they assume that it isn't bad.
But they don't see the way my heart races at the simple thought of initiating a conversation I so desperately want to have, but don't. They don't feel the burning sensation in my face and ears, or the way my hands tremble. They don't know that my stomach is lurching. They don't feel the cramps in my abdomen or understand that I'm desperately looking for a way out and will run to the washroom three times in a single hour, just to get a moment to feel something privately. "I want to go home", "I don't feel well", "I'm not having fun" I'll say to the person in the mirror. They don't watch me take deep breaths and force a smile as I come out of the bathroom. They don't know that the laugh is forced, me trying to prove to them that I'm having a good time out of fear that they somehow know about my private moment.
They don't know that I watch TV at night to drown out the voices in my head telling me all the ways in which tomorrow will go wrong. They don't know that the volume of the TV has to be louder than the voices in my head in order for me to get some sleep. They don't feel the discomfort that I feel sleeping in a bed that isn't mine, or the way my brain ceases to function when a routine of mine is broken, as though the unpredictability of the day is a threat to my very existence.
They don't see the battle raging inside my head. The one where my logic and reasoning are fighting against my feelings and emotions. I know I'm losing control, and I know I'm overreacting, but I can't help myself. I feel terrible and I can't stop. I shouldn't be feeling the way I feel because other people certainly have it worse, because it's not as bad for me.
And they don't know this because I mask these emotions - hiding them from everyone because the fear of their rejection is worse than holding it all inside. The fear of being told that my anxieties are not bad enough - or not valid enough to warrant actually being heard. Once I've been rejected, it takes too much effort to build up the courage to try again. Sharing the way I feel physically hurts me, but because there is no bruise, no scar, no blood, they don't see that.
I sprained my finger the other day. It bruised pretty badly. While it heals, the other fingers surrounding it will support it. The bruise on my leg, while it doesn't cause me any pain, will continue to get more attention than it needs until it goes away because it looks bad. My anxiety, unfortunately, will have to continue to prove its validity.
Even to me.